Ritual - Effective Delivery

By John P. Riddell


     Freemasonry is seriously indebted to those dedicated members

of our Fraternity who labor for months and years in learning the

various elements of ritual. I have often observed however, that the

effort and valuable time spent in memorizing and perfecting these

magnificent moral lessons is not always fully exploited;

surprisingly, this is not the result of faulty or halting memory,

but rather ineffective delivery.  How do we measure the

effectiveness of delivery?  Quite simply.  Effective delivery is

achieved whenever the candidate(audience?) has been able to hear

clearly and to reasonably understand the information presented by

the speaker.

     There are five elements of delivery or speech (the terms are

literally synonymous) - they are: knowledge of the subject, the

speaker's conviction of his message, audibility, pronunciation, and

articulation.  This might sound like some complex literary

exercise, but it really isn't.  Surely, every speaker should know

instinctively if he is prepared, if he has adequately memorized and

perfected his presentation, and that he himself is committed to the

principles of his message; he must also know if he is speaking loud

enough, and pronouncing his words correctly.  When then,

contributes most to poor speech or delivery?  It is articulation.

The mechanics of articulation, except perhaps for professionals, is

rarely, if ever, obvious to most casual speakers.  But, lack of

attention to this vital element of speech can distant the

information and, at times, make it almost unintelligible.

     Articulation - what is it?  It is a term that refers to the

movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, and soft palate to form speech

sounds.  Good articulation involves production of sounds that are

clear and distinct, without being overly precise.  Don't confuse

pronunciation with articulation.  Pronunciation is combining speech

sounds into recognizable words.  A speaker might survive

pronunciation that is unacceptable to an audience; poor

articulation however, makes a speaker much more difficult to

understand, affecting both the attention and comprehension of his

listeners.  Poor articulation leaves out sounds, distorts sounds

(most often by running them together), substitutes one sound for

another, and occasionally adds strange sounds.  Remember, in a

conversation, if poor articulation makes you difficult to

understand, the listener can stop you and ask, "What did you say?

I didn't understand that."  But, when you're delivering a lecture,

charge, or verse of scripture, that isn't possible.  If you aren't

understood, the idea is lost because there are no instant replays

for the lecturer.

     One note of caution - don't make the mistake of thinking that

you should precisely form every sound.  Over-articulation is also

poor articulation.  Good speech or delivery doesn't call attention

to itself.  If you said "I went to the movie last night." and tried

to precisely articulate every "t" in the sentence, your delivery

would be unnatural, and call attention to itself.  In addition,

"the" should be the sound of "thu."  To say "the" with the long "e"

would overstress the word and would not be natural.  By

overstressing these sounds, the speaker looses the natural rhythms

of speech, and creates the perception of insincerity - that he

might be more concerned with his image than his message.

     I suppose that some ritualists privately applaud themselves at

the completion of a lecture, charge, prayer or scripture; there was

nothing omitted and they managed to survive the ordeal.  But, were

they effective?  Did the candidate and others who were listening

hear clearly; did they reasonably understand the message?  If not,

it was probably due to poor articulation - speaking too rapidly,

distorting words by running sounds together, overstressing sounds,

omitting sounds.  It is difficult to understand a speaker under

these conditions - especially during the period when a candidate is

hoodwinked - he doesn't even have the opportunity to read the lips

of the person speaking.

     All of us are veteran Masons, and have been exposed to this

"ritual stuff" many many times.  We've sat through the ceremonies

of opening and closing lodges conferring the three degrees,

installations, funeral services - much of this rendered almost

unintelligible by sloppy speech - poor articulation.  But this

doesn't bother us because we've heard it so often that we can

mentally fill in the gaps left void by careless speakers.  But

Brethren, can't you just imagine how some of this might sound to

new candidates or Masons hearing it for the first time.  Remember,

if you are not understood, you've wasted your time in delivering

the message, you've failed to take advantage of the time and effort

in learning the work, and even worse, you've left thoroughly

confused listeners.